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The Bavarian Gold Bravery Medal to Gefreiter Heinrich Grieshammer

Although the “1st day of the Somme” (the 1st of July 1916) grabs the imagination of most people visiting the Somme Region the battle itself continued until mid-November 1916.

On the 12th of August 1916 the French advanced on the village of Maurepas after an intense barrage. The Germans had fortified the village flanked by Machine Gun Posts and a Blockhouse.

A new attempt was made on the 19th of August following a bombardment on increased intensity. On the 24th of August the village finally fell to a French assault. “Maurepas” was one of the most heavily defended positions of the German 2nd line and would become a bloody symbol for French sacrifice during the battle.

Above: Men of of the "Sturmtrupp" of the 9th Company, 7th Bavarian Reserve Infantry regiment in 1916

Jack Sheldon’s essential work on the battle as seen by the Germans “The German Army on the Somme” quotes a Bavarian officer from the b.R.I.R. 7 ….

Reserve Leutnant Georg Will 3rd Company Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 7

(On the 17th and 18th) The enemy hammered us with all calibers up to 280mm. We were effectively defenseless against it, but the 2nd Company got off lightly, suffering only five killed and thirty wounded. It was a different story for the 3rd Company, which has been terribly badly. More than twenty men are lying dead in the trench, many of whom had been buried alive by heavy shells and suffocated. The walking wounded are happy with their lot. Only E., whose arm has been torn off by a shell splinter, takes it badly: crying and moaning like a little child. The destruction of the 3rd Battalion forward in Maurepas… seems to be complete. Hundreds of guns of up to super heavy caliber have been bringing a storm of steel, of hurricane proportions, down on the village for twenty four hours now. The landscape is enveloped in one great cloud of dust. Signal flares cannot be seen through it and it seems as though all signs of life have ben snuffed out. We send patrols forward. It is now evening and the order arrives for the companies at readiness to move up to Maurepas to reinforce and support. It is extremely difficult to get the men out of the trenches and to maintain an overview of proceedings, because shells keep exploding all over the place. Heavy suppressive fire threatens to prevent us from getting forward, but we succeed and extend the right flank of the 3rd Battalion, until we make contact with out neighboring Regiment.

Left: A French Poilu and a Bavarian Soldier killed between combles and Maurepas in the August 1916 push

During the 19th and 20th of August we find ourselves in the front line. There are no trenches, so we occupy shell holes, seeking shelter behind piled up banks of earth.

Everyone tries to edge forward, as close to the enemy as possible, to escape from the shelling. During the hours of darkness we dig as hard as we can to link up the craters. The whole place is a charnel house, defying description. The earth is reduced to dust and ashes, the trees are uprooted and smashed, the houses have been swept away, the air is poisoned by smoke, gas, and the reek of corpses. Countless pieces of equipment, of all sorts, lie strewn everywhere and in between them are the corpses of the fallen, blown up and distended. Some of them had been hastily buried, but ploughed up once more by the shells. Here and there limbs are sticking out of the ground or just lying around. The sunken road of Maurepas! No worse place can exist! A doctor has taken a photograph of it, which will show more than I can relate. We had laid the courageous Leutnant Beckh in a shell crater, but he was hit by a 280 millimeter shell, which ripped him apart and flung the pieces up in the air. During the afternoon I lay for several hours on the back of a dead man without noticing. The corpse was covered up, but the ground gave under the pressure of my knee, just as if I was on boggy ground. When I sought the reason and scraped away some soil with my hand, I came across the jacket of a dead man.

Above: In the background French Soldiers advance towards Maurepas

I assume command of the 3rd Company… during the day the infantry suffers terribly from the depredations of the aviators. Although doubt is sometimes cast on the assertion that aircraft descend to twenty to thirty meters to attack the infantry with grenades and machine guns, here we are experiencing it as the bitter truth… the doctors work is endless. Leutnant Beckh was killed, shot through the head. His helmet did not save him. The bullet pierced his forehead and exited behind as a ricochet. Despite that, he lived for a short while. Oberleutnant Erndl fell, shot through the stomach. Whilst he was being carried away, he was wounded again by several splinters. Reserve Leutnant Löwel was also killed by a rifle bullet. Reserve Leutnant Barnewitz, the little man from Saxony, was hit by a shell in front of the command post in the Artillery Hollow. Reserve Leutnant Vollrath was killed by a tiny splinter which pierced his helmet and entered his brain. Reserve Leutnant Krauß is missing. That was not all. To our front, very close to enemy lines, there was an intact dugout. I went inside and found the body. An army of flies swarmed round the corpse, which had been lying there for days…

The surviving Bavarians were extremely grateful to be away from the pestilence of Maurepas when they were finally relieved on the 23rd of August…”

Above: Ruins in the Maurepas area

Gefreiter Grieshammer was decorated with the Bavarian Gold Bravery Medal for his role as messenger during the fighting which saw his Company destroyed at Maurepas. A member of the III Batl., 10th Company he was one of the Lucky survivors of the fighting. His citation read as follows…

Above: The Militärpass of Landsturmmann (later Gefreiter) Heinrich Grieshammer. The entry for the Bavarian Golden Bravery Medal is marked in green

"During the time spent in the frontline at Maurepas during the battle of the Somme by the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment Nr. 7 ,  Private Grieshammer and Gefreiter Mütter (both of the 9th Company) distinguished themselves with exemplary courage on the 18th of August 1916. During the day they braved the heaviest bombardments of all calibers to bring messages from the Battalion to Regimental command post. When the French advanced after numerous attacks they once again made the perilous journey. Thrown to the ground numerous times by exploding shells they reached the Le Forest positions to relay a request for reinforcements and ammunition to the commander of the reserve battalion. They then skillfully guided the reinforcements through the enemy barrage using their knowledge of areas where the fire was less heavy to arrive in the front line without loss. A few hours later they volunteered again to search for the stretcher bearers. Due to fog they were not able to find them but as dawn broke they found their way to the regimental headquarters and relayed the need for stretcher bearers. They then returned through the enemy barrage to transmit a message to the battalion."

Grieshammer was promoted to Gefreiter on the 31st of August 1916 as a reward for bravery in the face of the enemy. His Goldene Militär-Verdienst-Medaille (Golden Military Service Medal,(Soon to be renamed Golden Bravery medal) was awarded on the 4th of December 1916. He received the bayerische Militär Verdienst Kreuz 3. Klasse on the 26th of September 1917 and the Iron Cross 2nd Class on the 25th of June 1918.

If you do not have Jack Sheldon's book about the German Army on the Somme... you would be doing yourself a favour if you ordered it!